The Patient Participation Group
Doctors are the only professionals who consistently exceed my expectations.
It was to support my doctors that I, Guy Thomas, joined my local Droitwich Patient Participation
Group in Worcestershire, England.
Topics for Patient Participation Group (PPG)
A man walked into the doctor's, The doctor said:
haven't seen you in a long time.'
The man replied, 'I know I've been ill'.
A PPG is collection of ordinary people with a desire to make a difference
to what happens in their surgery. These are my reasons joining the patient participation group:
- To support, help and boost the doctors.
- A sense of wanting to give something back to the community.
- Lobbying to improve services, for example, phone service, local transport for
- To let off steam about personal grievances concerning administration
at the practice;
then distil it into constructive criticism.
- What happens in PPG meetings
Top of the agenda at any Patient Participation Group is to recruit more
members. Anyone can join. To be precise, anyone can join a
Patient Participation Group at their local surgery. If your surgery
does not have a PPG then you could form one!
One hidden benefit of going to PPG meetings is chatting with other patients.
You will discover services that you did not know existed. In
addition, talking over similar problems with ordinary people helps to put things in
perspective. Sometimes I have to admit that that my starting
position was just plain wrong - the practice and the surgery
were correct. Occasionally every patient can see a
problem, but the practice cannot, that's when the group can be
at its most powerful.
One reason why PPGs can be so good is because they contain experienced
people, thus they are qualified to make comments, because they have seen
lots of different doctors' administrative systems.
Conversation Overheard in a Surgery (Not in
Doctor: Are you on HRT?
Patient: No, income
While PPGs have been around for about 20 years, what's exciting about
PPGs in 2010 is that attitudes, facilities and procedures are changing fast.
What's exciting is that PPGs can provide help with issues that practice
administrators are too hamstrung to deal with, and make life a tiny bit
easier for doctors who, frankly, have more urgent matters to attend to.
My own view is that general practice
doctors are 'Gods' and the rest of us should do all that we can so that they
can spend all their time doing what they do best - treating patients.
See the national Patient
'What kind of job do you do?'
A lady passenger asks the
man travelling to Birmingham in her train compartment.
'I'm a naval surgeon,' he replies.
'Good grief!' splutters the lady, 'How you doctors
specialise these days.'
Topics That Interests and Concern PPGs
- Local hospital provision.
- Making phone contact with the surgery.
- Availability of hospital x-rays.
- Transport for hospital appointments.
- More on what happens in PPG meetings
- Keep appointments - If you cannot make your pre-booked slot,
then please phone
and let reception know. The doctor or nurse can then see another
- Avoid phoning for test results in the
morning rush hour. It drives receptionists mad if you
phone for non-urgent matters between (8:30 -11:00 am).
This is when really sick, and distressed patients are trying
to get through to make a vital appointment. Make it a
rule to only for your XRAY or blood test results only after
- Read the surgery's literature. Guy bets
that if you research your Doctor's services you will find at
least one that you did not know about. My guess is
that you will find one that is useful to you!
- Fill in patient questionnaires. People only fill these in when
they have a complaint. Make your doctor and receptionists day by
filling one in after you have had a good consultation. Join your
local Patient Participation Group.
- Most good doctors run late. When I visit with any other
professionals, I regard it as a personal insult if they keep me waiting.
However, with doctors I have come to realize that they may have just seen an emergency,
consequently, my appointment has to be put back 30 minutes. Guy has been very
slow to learn this lesson.
- If blame must be found, then find the root cause.
I now feel guilty because I have shoot at least 3 messengers
instead of talking with the person who instigated an administration system
that I think is nonsensical.
- I do give general practice doctors god-like status when it comes to
medical matters, therefore, it has been a great disappointment to realize that they are ordinary mortals when it comes to admin. Incidentally, my friend Brigadier Jackson, who often tells me that
none of his combat ready platoons ever passed a parade drill, reckons
that no top doctor passes muster at form filling. Guy is learning
to deal with this fact of life, and brushing-up lines to 'chat-up'
receptionists in order to clarify admin matters.
Funny Statements Made by Doctors (Not in Droitwich)
- While in the emergency room, she was examined,
X-rated and sent home.
- Rectal exam revealed a normal size thyroid.
- The patient lives at home with his mother, father,
and pet turtle, who is presently enrolled in day care
three times a week.
I say again, doctors are the only profession that exceed my expectation.
At the other extreme, phone systems consistently disappoint me. This
is because I can remember the halcyon days when if you phoned the doctor's
surgery, or a hospital, you got through to a real live
telephonist. It's interesting that that really important services, such
as the 999 emergency, still employ a real telephonist. All other
services bamboozle me with their recorded messages, befuddle me with options,
and then more often than not, cut me off once I make my selection.
Until a doctors' surgery provides a real live telephonist I will never believe
that they truly put their patients ahead of procedures and performance
targets. I am not sure if it makes matters better or worse that all
surgeries are equally cowardly, in that they all hide under the excuse that
everyone else provides only a recorded options menu service.
To step back, and take a reality check: there are 2,000,000 + people unemployed in Great
Britain, would it not better everyone if 5,000 of them were employed
as surgery telephonists, rather than drawing
Doctors' Phone Service - Plan B
It seems that at least for the short-term we have to accept a recorded message service.
Taking a shot at a surgery's phone service is an easy target. What can
we do to make it better?
- Research, and put into practice, every little improvement that
individual receptionists have uncovered.
- Ask patients what they would like.
- Test alternatives. Why do we have to have out-of-date or
- Experiment with soothing useful messages. 'If you are phoning
to make an appointment for someone else, it will help our receptionist if you
have their correct spelling of their first name and last name'.
- I am sure that patients have a rich
seam of suggestions on how to make an automated system better. (Why do they have to start at 8:30?
What would happen if the lines were
opened at 7:30?)
- Consistency with phone options. For example press 1 is always
for emergencies, 2 for today's appointments etc.
- As this phone service is a topic I have though a great deal about, I
would welcome comments and especially suggestions from other patient
- See more on surgery phone
Those surgery receptionists are literally at the front line. As
holders of the keys to the appointment system they control who sees which
doctor, and when.
Where the interests of the patient and the doctor coincide the role of
receptionist must be satisfying, however, where the demands of the patient
are in conflict with what the doctor wants, then the job must become taxing.
Another source of conflict must be when the interest of the doctor and
patient coincide, but the
surgery does not have the capacity, thus the receptionist has to make some
In recent years receptionists have adopted a more pro-active approach by
introducing the phrase 'medical emergency' into negotiations for making an
appointment. What I ask is for them to provide alternatives to 'phone
back tomorrow', when an appointment request is not a medical emergency.
Letter to the Times on a Related Topic
We're not doctors
Sir, Dr Rebecca Scorer (Letters Feb 11 2010) suggests that GPs'
difficulties with out-of-hours calls would be manageable if they were
confined to genuine medical emergencies, but how are the medically ill
informed to distinguish between an apparently serious and urgent condition
and one that can safely wait for within-hours assessment - call the doctor?
Ron Plowman, Bromley, Kent.
Key Question - Am I Worrying Too Little, or Too Much?
As a patient I ask myself, 'Do I underuse or overuse the precious time of my general
practitioner?' Perceived wisdom states that one should not provide a
shopping list of complaints to one's doctor. However, on giving the
topic deeper thought, is the crucial factor the length of time for that one
appointment. Because logically it is more efficient to discuss 3
minor matters at one consultation, rather than making 3 separate visits.
On the one hand, if none of the items on the shopping list is critical,
then perhaps nature will provide its own cure and a visit would be
On the other hand, the doctor may say, 'if only you had come sooner with
that skin lesion, then we could have removed it with a simple freezing
treatment, but as you have left it so long, now you are going to need
As amateurs, but people who regularly observe our own bodies, we make he
best call. However, sometimes we get it wrong. Should doctors
hint to patients that their visit was so trivial that they should not have
Contact Guy Thomas
Appendix - An Alternative Medical Dictionary
- Artery - The study of paintings.
- Cauterize - Made eye contact with her.
- Colic - A sheep
- Dilate - To live long.
- Enema - Not a friend.
- Urine - Opposite of 'you're out'.